Saturday, March 15, 2014

Veronica Mars – how do I love thee? Let me count the ways

Today, March 15 (NZST) sees the official release of the much-anticipated, partially Kickstarter-funded Veronica Mars movie on VOD and in select theatres in Canada, the UK and the US.  Fans in the antipodes are waiting to see if writer/producer/director Rob Thomas and studio Warner Bros will take a theatre deal in this neck of the woods or whether we'll have to be satisfied with Amazon and iTunes.   

 Late to the party as always, I didn’t discover the year-old Kickstarter campaign until four weeks ago, but I’ve had my nose pressed against the glass ever since.

If you’ve missed the phenomenon that is Veronica Mars, it was originally a genre-bending noir-style high school TV series with a witty, super-smart female protagonist.  The show ran for three seasons in the 2000s and was cancelled mid-storyline in 2007 with moderate ratings.  After years of (rabid) fan campaigns and constant requests to Rob Thomas and VM’s titular star Kristen Bell, a Veronica Mars feature film has been fan-funded and made.  Some 91,500 fans (myself excluded, but only because I missed the deadline by, like, 12 months) have contributed hard cash to see their favourite characters on screen once more.

In the series, Veronica Mars is the daughter of a disgraced small-town Sheriff turned private eye. Cast out from her rich-kid clique after her father accused a powerful man of murder, she is resolutely bad-ass. Bringing wealthy or privileged evil-doers to justice while refusing to give a crap about what anyone thinks is her thematic anchor. 

The Veronica Mars movie picks up the threads of the series 10 years down the track.  Veronica has just graduated law school in New York.  She recently started dating Stosh Piznarski, an old boyfriend from college and is ready to work for the man.  That is until old flame Logan Echolls is accused of murder and she returns home to help.  Happily her 10-year high-school reunion is also on, allowing for all manner of series regulars, including besties Wallace and Mac to make an appearance in the film without too much narrative strain. 

The volume of Veronica Mars fans, their longevity and their willingness to provide money upfront should be of paramount interest to movie execs.  What exactly is it that makes this story-world so ‘sticky’?

Objectively speaking, most of the cinema-quality US cable shows we’re currently enjoying were still a gloaming twinkle in 2004 when Veronica Mars premiered.  This is definitely small-screen fare.  In DVD commentary on season three Rob Thomas is sweetly forthcoming about budgetary constraints, writing mistakes and the family-like on-set atmos.  There is a small-team, organic feel to his commentary and to the show as a whole.  Sets tend to lack windows.  Location work is limited in scope.  Plots are not always fully realised or are slightly OTT.  Scenes are quite static.  Lighting is simpler than we have become accustomed to in the universe of HBO super-shows.

But this to me is kind of charming.  And in any case what I, and many other fans love is something else, or, in fact, several things.

Thomas started his working life as a journalism teacher and apparently quickly became part of the wallpaper. Privy to his female students' personal conversations he realised the greatest ‘super-power’ he could give a teen heroine would be to not care what anyone thinks.  That probably created an unintended appeal – the outsider who doesn't give a toss speaks volumes to the dispossessed, regardless of their gender.  In the wake of the global financial crisis any outsider triumph is likely to be wildly resonant – and we want more of it, please.

Kristen Bell, incredibly well-cast as Veronica, has commented on her character’s complexity.  She uses verbal repartee and sheer brains to outwit the bad guys, and when she kicks ass it’s not in a physical way.  In other words, her smarts and strengths are matched by a vulnerability which is relatable.  As audience, we are still presented with a very limited number of complex, interesting, three-dimensional female characters on screens of any size.  Veronica Mars’ thousands of fans are likely testimony to the fact that audiences are hungry for this material – so hungry a lot of us are willing to pay for it upfront.

Since cancellation of Veronica Mars, films and shows carried by complex female characters are attracting a bankably large audience.  Running entirely off the top of my head I’d guess The Good Wife, Bridesmaids and Girls enjoy ratings success driven by a healthy male fan-base.  Massive HBO hits Game ofThrones and True Blood are ensembles with (at times) questionable gender politics, but their female characters are feisty, witty, bossy, concerned with power – worlds away from preoccupation with social and domestic life.  A male friend personally prefers Arya’s story-arc above all others in Game of Thrones.  This lends (anecdotal) support to the idea that, in fact, the demand for interesting female characters is greater than supply. 

The class issues Veronica Mars addresses are also highly topical in the wake of the GFC.   The fictional town of Neptune where Veronica Mars is set contains the super-rich, a disenfranchised middle class and, well, bikers.  The downfall of the middle-class has only become more topical since VM's demise as a series.  It was about then that the credit crunch started, thousands lost their homes to sub-prime mortgages and it was generally revealed that enormous private corporations had been quietly ripping regular folks off, simply because they could.  Watching Veronica Mars exposing rich white guys as horrible, dishonest people and actively bringing them to justice episode after episode must have been a balm to the soul for a significant proportion of audience members.  I enjoyed it quite a lot myself.

In the way it addresses the power and politics of high school, Veronica Mars treats shitty teachers like the power-wielding evil-doers they are.  And even though I graduated decades ago, I still take unalloyed pleasure in seeing under-dog students come out on top.  I also love that, narratively speaking, Veronica's sexual activities, bad attitudes and even illegal behaviour go completely unpunished.  She does the deed with her boyfriend in his hotel room, makes her best friend steal student files, cuts an additional set of keys to the principal’s office, appropriates a ladies toilet as her own office, impersonates, cons and dupes - and generally gets away with everything.

There is also a sort of fantasy nostalgia factor which is very appealing.  Veronica Mars’ dystopic universe incarnates high school the way the audience maybe wish it could have been.  A sympathetic Dad who treats his daughter like an adult and loves her like crazy while simultaneously allowing her to run amok.  A main character who gets fantastic grades, mostly without trying, has seriously good skin and jeans, a nearly new car and interesting, loyal friends.  Veronica also has clear-cut problems to which she is able to find a solution, dignity in her sexual relationships and certainty about her values.  If only actual adolescence could have had that much clarity.

Indeed, Veronica is always the smartest person in the room.  She’s ready with a cutting riposte to every put-down.  There is no grey in her universe.  If someone does wrong by her she has no compunction, but she seldom judges people ahead of their behaviour.  Rather than shunning social outcasts she befriends them and her misfit collection of sidekicks always come through.  In other words, for many of us watching from the sidelines, she’s the girl we wish we could've been.

And I suppose, for many of the male admirers of Veronica’s special brand of feist, she’s the girl we wish we could have.

One final element worth noting in terms of the Veronica Mars’ series on-going fan appeal is the way Rob Thomas left the story at the end of season three.  Given a choice to tie things up by the commissioning TV channel, he elected to leave us with a cliff-hanger.  Sometimes there’s no greater pull to see more of something than an overwhelming desire to know what happens next. 

Counting down the final hours to the official release, I’m mostly thinking (in a very sleepy way) about the fact that it’s personally important to me that something like Veronica Mars exists.  In a universe of stories in which women are decorative plot-devices or obsessed with domestic, social or sexual minutiae, she fills the screen, centre of the moral universe, making the story happen.  She never leaves well enough alone, refusing to be silenced, sidelined or removed from centre-stage.  And instead of being punished or put in her place, she flourishes.
I suppose the moral of the story for Kickstarter campaigners, filmmakers and studios is - give audiences more three-dimensional girl heroes, and keep it coming.  We will reward you.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Beauty is worth - gender ID and Mr Hoffman

This is profound personal revelation about the way women are judged and judge themselves and it comes from a man.  Walking a mile in someone's shoes doesn't always provoke this level of empathy.  If you want to see a grown man cry this is for you: respect.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Avoiding the flux in India

I was recently in India (Kalimpong, West Bengal no less) directing a couple of promotional videos for a most admirable NGO.  India is such a head-trip that I despair of being able to explain the experience and various frustrated family members, expecting a well-embroidered tale over Christmas drinks, can attest to this.  However, what I can reveal - of particular interest for those of you planning on hitting India - are my personal tips for avoiding gastro-intestinal and respiratory tract infections while there.  If the list seems like overkill that's probably because it is, but I had a job to do and a schedule to do it on, so when it came to risk management, I did not stint.  Everything is based on trials from earlier trips and what I know of medical principles (as a nosy layperson) but it did work flawlessly the one time I had a chance to deploy it.  Adopt at your own risk!


1) BLIS travel guard – stops you getting a respiratory tract infection from being on the plane.

2) No jetlag homeopathic anti-jetlag pills. They stop the “restless leg” feeling I get on economy-class long haul and make it easier to rest.  Obviously, when it comes to any international travel, rest makes everything work better.  I got mine at Auckland airport and I've also seen them at a mall pharmacy, also in Auckland, but there is extensive 'where to buy' information on their website if you're based somewhere else, including internationally.  Incidentally - these don't stop actual jet lag, but they do make a long haul or medium haul flight more comfortable.

4) Multivitamins – for me they reduce the impact of jetlag and fatigue and appear to give my immunity a boost.  The ones I'm currently taking are Red Seal Women's Multi for the principle reason that these are super-cheap at Countdown.  But I imagine any multivit would work just as well.

5) Probiotics – theoretically these populate your digestive tract with healthy bacteria, potentially making it harder for the bad bugs to get in. There is some evidence to suggest that the right probiotics reduce anxiety (see here for information on a study to support this bizarre assertion - I'm not just making it up) which is an advantage if you're working on something stressful. Healtheries Probiotica from the supermarket were great for me.  The most important thing is to make sure you get a brand that doesn't need to be refrigerated.

NB: This is not to do with gastro-intestinal or upper-respiratory tract infections but more serious diseases deserve a mention.  As Kalimpong is near the Himalayas and it was winter-time when I was there, I opted not to take anti-malarials.  If I had been in Goa or traveling in summer I would have taken doxycycline, which I find tolerable.  Insect repellent is non-negotiable no matter what.  And obviously get all the recommended immunisations - getting hepatitis will typically top most gastro-intestinal issues and tends to last a whole lot longer.


6) Drink as much water as possible on the plane to stop your mucus membranes from drying out – which makes respiratory tract infections less likely.  Buy a bottle of water after you get through security and get it refilled by the flight attendants during the flight.  I always have a couple of alcoholic drinks - an aperitif and wine with dinner - because it's part of the fun of flying, but it's better to avoid booze altogether if you feel up to it.

7) Once in India, stay hydrated but ONLY with bottled water from a vendor that you trust.  Even in the best hotels all the tap water should be considered wonderfully bioactive.  Hotels usually provide bottled water in your room and this is fine. I usually carry a bottle of water with me during the day so I always have something handy - a friend from a India told me that street vendors sometimes refill water bottles and super-glue the tops to make it seem as if they're sealed.  Not something I wanted to test.

8) ALWAYS use bottled water when brushing your teeth and washing your face.  It seems like over-kill but it's an easy way to avoid sucking in something dodgy.  I know people who swear by the concept of brushing your teeth in the local water to give your body a chance to develop some immunity, but when you're on a short trip or a job and you can't afford any downtime it's not worth it.  Also - I'm pretty sure it's not possible to develop an immunity to giardia.

9) In the shower, keep your mouth closed and don’t lick your lips.  No gargling!

10) Hand sanitiser – use this after washing your hands at the toilet (dry them first) and any time you feel you need it.  If you’re eating with your hands use it before meals.  I used Purell 15 ml bottles - I took about five for two weeks, gave two away and got through about 3. I also took disinfectant towelettes as well but those are really better for those moments when you're not able to shower...

11) Be picky about where you eat - one of the people I was traveling with got sick at a dodgy restaurant and she thinks it was the water used on the glassware.  (This particular person is a New Zealand-based Indian and she swears by going to an Indian doctor if you get sick there as they're used to diagnosing the problem and have all the right drugs to hand. Local pharmaceuticals are cheap and reliable for the most part, but I've seen mixed results with doctors.  Best to get a recommendation before taking this route).


12) Eat nothing raw – no salads, no pickles , no nothing – not even in a fancy hotel. Everything has to be hot and freshly cooked.  This is to avoid contamination from food-preparers not washing their hands, especially after going to the toilet, and from the water.  I had no problems with fruit you can peel (oranges, bananas) but any fruit where you eat the skin should be avoided - because it will be probably have been washed before you get it.


13) Don’t bring your hands to your face if you can avoid it. Lots of infections are passed from noses, mouths and bums to hands, then to surfaces and from there to other people’s hands, noses and mouths.  Delish.

Other notes:
In most places showing arm-tops and any part of your leg is considered risque and will cause people to stare.   After one dubious afternoon walk in Delhi I learned this the hard way.  In terms of arms and legs, India is more conservative than the Pacific.

The regime above assumes that your sleep patterns will be messed up but it goes without saying that everything works better with adequate rest which can take a bit of discipline.  I found the time change going from New Zealand to India easier than when coming back.   You tend to sleep when it gets dark and then wake up really early which I found great for getting stuff done.

That's all I got!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Things I like: Bayly and Moore

Bayly & Moore make me want to be a better promo, infinity much. Even if they mostly do weddings. Their corporate stuff is great too. So's their photography.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The ultimate red tiki-tour

For your possible reading pleasure a quick note from various Labour gatherings this evening...

11.24pm Goff does a stand-up interview outside the war memorial door...applause breaks out in ragged patches. And the departure - security following in a matched sedan. The circus is getting ready to leave town and this time so am I.

11.08pm political reporter from one of the networks arrives, lprent is agitating to leave, but hooked into more chat about running with more party insiders.

11.03pm lprent is discussing how to get better mobilisation of voters with a party insider...David Cunliffe has left the building, and now so have I. The crush eventually forced the issue. More chat about mobilisation on the veranda. Now I can see the giant sports reporting truck and lights in the carpark...

11.00pm various pundits agree it's not a great result, but more people are still trickling in from outside anyhow and wine in plastic cups awaits. I've been noticing tv1's female camera operator - go girl. Camera department chicks are not as common as you might imagine.

10.59pm David Cunliffe in the supporter scrum..

10.56pm - the circus is starting to leave town - camera operators cluster but some of the lights are off. Someone shouts out that Christchurch Central is a tie...

10.54pm - three cheers....more drums...

10.52pm Phil - Bloodied but holding true to our values...hoping for a future where we keep our assets. Where National have no mandate for change, such as to sell assets, we will fight and fight.

10.49pm Phil congratulates new MPs coming through - great to see new blood. Sadness for MPs who lost their seats.

10.48pm Michael's congratulations to Phil, to the electorate support and the gutsy-est campaign Labour campaign ever.

10.46pm - media scrambling - an orgy of hugs and Goff's finally on the stage...

10.43pm - lights, camera - Phil Goff in the house...Michael Wood on stage and drums to welcome him in.

10.40pm - David Shearer is doing the rounds, showing the team colours...People are trickling in from the surrounding electorates.

10.32pm Standing room only at Mt least one organiser commented that they didn't expect so much media in the room - even China TV is here, plus live cameras from the networks and all the rest.

10.15pm - off to Mt Roskill and the media scrum...

10.08pm - resignation over John Banks taking Epsom for Act. Someone comments that the margin between National and Act makes it a massive loss for Act, in relative terms of course.

10.05pm The crowd is thinning slightly - probably people decamping to Mt Roskill. Those left are watching a triumphal Russell Norman on the projector - a third party gets over 10% for the first time in New Zealand's history.

9.59pm cheer for Phil Twyford pulling well ahead in Te Atatu.

9.57pm cheer as Paula Bennett falls behind Carmel Sepuloni in Waitakere.

9.55pm Mt Albert - bunting styles and red balloons, a New Zealand flag on the wall and tv3 on the main projector. The crowd is classic 70s liberals, the core of Helen's old electorate still in evidence and the debate is sharp. The pundit position on Auckland Central now saying Nikki will take it with a current margin of 600 and 75% of votes in.

9.29pm Auckland Central - small section of the room have roused to the idea that NZ first could be going in. "Let John Key's nightmare begin" is the rallying cry.

9.26pm First stop - Auckland Central, the home seat of Jacinta Arden...the mood is chill, hopeful. Well-heeled hipster liberals plus a slightly older set, red wine drinkers and a wood fire on Ponsonby Road. Certain pundits are predicting a win to Labour for Central given Jacinta and Nikki are neck and neck. There is close attention to the tv1 polls and the Elections website - live updates. A cheer for David Shearer pushing ahead in Mt Albert.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Things I like: Chronic Bitchface and smart talkin

'Things I like' is my proposed new series of posts on - yes! - things I like. Gratifyingly, there are more of them than I initially anticipated, even excluding Vanity Fair which has already had one hell of a plug on this blog (ditto iPads).

Tonight I'm going to shout out to pol sci lecturer Therese Arseneau who did a creditable commentary on last night's leaders debate (Campbell Live, TV3), giving a highly informed opinion on the content presented and contextualising the audience feedback 'worm' results through sharing her own extensive knowledge of the New Zealand political landscape in a concise and accessible way. I know it shouldn't matter but when a woman says brainy stuff on telly it makes me feel like someone is flying the flag for all of us. And it seems to happen surprisingly seldom. Arseneau's commentary contrasts sharply with the lacklustre efforts of Clare Robinson on the panel for the first leaders's debate on TVNZ. She seemed out of her depth and a little defensive with it, which had the unfortunately effect of making me feel like she was a token choice. As in - "we can't find an informed woman to balance out the leaders' debate panel but that's ok - woman don't care about this stuff anyway and they all like John Key, so anyone will do". I hope to god I'm wrong, and I hasten to add, I doubt I could do better. But I also hope that if Ms Robinson is back on the panel later this week, she takes a deep breath, collects her thoughts and does us all proud.

I also have to take a moment to call attention to the colour-coding of each of the major party debates and the arrangement of the studio. Did anyone else find the blue background behind Guyon Espiner a bit too right for comfort? TV3 by contrast did well on being non-partisan, with John Campbell sporting a handsome lilac tie and a pale greenish backdrop. I also really liked the fact that the leaders were facing each other on TV3 rather than facing the facilitator as at TVNZ, and that they got longer to talk about a particular issue. This meant we got presented with less topics, but meant the responses had greater depth as the leaders were able to properly formulate their points, largely without being interrupted or redirected. It was refreshing how polite JC was as well. Quite old school. Love it.

And on a lighter and completely unrelated note - after a childhood and adolescence plagued by strange men coming up to me and shouting "smile - it can't be that bad" in airports and places of worship etc, I finally found this:

Chronic Bitchface

I somehow feel less alone....

Monday, November 21, 2011

Feeling the love

Vanity got the better of me once again (see my last post title) but only literally this time. I was checking my blog stats to see if any readers had swung my way and was surprised to see referrals from several political blogs I used to frequent back around the time of the last New Zealand general election in 2008.

So I'd like to give a special little shout-out to the hand-mirror, jillingoff and the hive for forwarding a handful of readers on to me. I'm particularly cheering the hand-mirror for championing the writing of women online and not forgetting the now re-named 'Greylynnsinglesclub' (ie this blog) although I haven't written a damn thing for or against the prime minister this entire election campaign. It's also the only one of the three regularly being updated.

I fondly remember my first referral (from the now defunct kiwiblogblog) and how happy I was to be included in the great unwashed carnival that is the internet. I'm reliving the joy tonight...